Minnesota Moment: Minnetonka Graduate Named NCAA Woman of the Year

October 25, 2017 10:28 PM

What Lizzy Crist accomplished on the field as a member of the women's soccer team at Washington (Mo.) University was impressive enough.

The Minnetonka graduate ended her college goalkeeping career with the school record for shutouts (31), and ranked second all-time in wins with 48.

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As a senior last fall, she helped lead the Bears to the Division III national championship, and was named both the Division III Honda Athlete of the Year and National Soccer Coaches Association player of the year for her efforts.

But those accomplishments aren't the only reason she was named the 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year Sunday.

Not even close.

There's also the fact that Crist, who is now a graduate student in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, graduated with a GPA of 3.9. And that she was a three-time academic all-conference pick who received the Outstanding Senior Biomedical Engineering Achievement Award at Washington U., as well as the Ethan A.H. Shepley Award, which recognizes excellence in leadership, academics and community service.

Then there's this: Crist has also coauthored a paper published in Scientific Report, a research journal, looking at how cancerous tumors acquire blood vessels.

That came as a result of working in the George Laboratory with Dr. Steven George at Washington U.

"We ask our women to transcend the student-athlete experience," Washington U. women's soccer coach Jim Conlon said. "We want them to make it a scholar-champion experience. And she embraced that.

"She got involved in labs early in her tenure here. And she tried to be the best she could, both athletically and academically. She really allowed for doors to be opened. That doesn't happen all the time. Some people don't open doors when they have the chance.

"But she went out and found them."

Still, when she heard her name called from among the ranks of nine finalists at Sunday night's ceremony in Indianapolis, Crist admits having a hard time believing it was real.

"It was just last night," she said Monday. "But it still feels like a dream or something.

"I was amazed just sitting there and listening to all the videos the NCAA committee put together on the finalists. There were so many All-Americans and national champions, who had all done so much. I just thought 'These women are so accomplished. They deserve this award more than me.'

"I had no expectation it would be my name called. Then, when it happened, it was such a rush of emotion."

The award, first handed out in 1991, is meant to recognize female student-athletes who have distinguished themselves in athletics, academics, leadership and community service.

To be eligible, a student-athlete must have completed eligibility in her primary sport by the end of the 2017 spring season, graduated no later than the 2017 summer term and maintained a minimum GPA of 2.5. The nomination materials had to detail their work on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

Crist was chosen from a pool 145 nominees. The top 30 finalists were honored at Sunday's event. The final nine candidates were drawn from that pool.

"Honestly, it was such an impressive field," she said. "Any one of those women deserved this honor. It was so fantastic to be part of that group."

Crist credits her older sister Katie for getting her to Washington U. in the first place.

Katie Crist also attended the school and was a member of the swim team.

"I spent so much time hanging out down there with she and her friends," Crist said. "And I saw a group of people committed to both athletics and academics. I wanted to be part of that."

Crist's younger sister Maggie also attends Washington U. She's a junior on the soccer team this fall, which meant the two were teammates while winning a national title a year ago.

"That was so cool," she said. "Just getting to play together for two years was nice. But winning a national championship together was an amazing experience."

But Crist said her best experiences at the school came in the classroom and the lab.

Especially her work on cancer research with Dr. George.

"Almost everyone has a personal connection to cancer," she said. "I don't have the direct link that some people do, like with a parent or grandparent or someone else. But I've seen what a beast this disease can be and the impact it can have."

Crist is just starting graduate school. So there is still time to determine her future path.

She said it's possible she could work for a time in the biotech industry. But ultimately, she'd like be working with students herself.

"I think everyone needs those role models," she said. "Sometimes when you see other people do something, it opens your eyes and shows you that you can do it too.

"I want to be that for other students because I had it myself. And it made such a big difference."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Crist was a Wayzata graduate. Crist graduated from Minnetonka High School.

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Frank Rajkowski

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